Most people in today’s world enjoy the way online platforms and electronic resources help to keep us connected to friends and family, but what happens when those same social media platforms, GPS devices, and other electronic tools make it possible for an ex-spouse to stay connected to the other spouse against their will, or in a way that causes them fear? Today’s age of social media apps, AirTag trackers, and other digital platforms makes it all too easy to facilitate a form of spying, prying, and threatening known as cyberstalking.
When Does the Use of Internet Platforms Become Cyberstalking?
“Cyberstalking” refers to any form of online harassment, including monitoring an individual’s online activity, trolling a person’s social media posts, spamming their inboxes and messaging services, or using social medial networking to threaten, slander, or harass them. Cyberstalking may also refer to GPS tracking of another individual through tracking devices such as Apple AirTags.
In today’s world of divorce law, spouses don’t need to prove fault for divorce as they once had to prove adultery or abandonment. While combing a spouse’s social media accounts to look for signs of hidden assets in states such as California with equal division of marital asset laws may be an acceptable practice, when one spouse hacks into accounts to troll, slander, harass or threaten the other, or uses GPS trackers to monitor the spouse’s movement, it becomes cyberstalking.
How Does Cyberstalking Impact a Divorce Case?
If you suspect a spouse is hiding or disposing of assets during the divorce process, scrolling through their social media accounts to look for expensive vacations and new cars is a relatively benign process. Plus, it’s quite common to browse an ex’s social media accounts out of curiosity about their new romantic interests. But when one spouse uses these platforms to intimidate or threaten the other it can become frightening. In some cases, a disgruntled spouse may post false accusations and lies about the other to try to impact a custody case or to punish them for perceived wrongs.
Sometimes blocking the spouse isn’t enough, since it’s relatively easy to create fake accounts and continue cyberstalking and harassing them.
If your spouse is engaging in any of these cyberstalking activities during the divorce process, it could give you grounds to file for a restraining order, especially if the stalking involves threats of violence. You could also use evidence of cyberstalking against the spouse in court to highlight their instability in a way that could impact the judge’s decision about child custody.
Is Cyberstalking Illegal?
California has laws against cyberstalking when it becomes intimidating or threatening, or when it constitutes blackmail. A cyberstalking misdemeanor conviction carries the following penalties in California:
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Up to 1 year in county jail
This crime could also carry up to 5 years of prison time and $10,000 in fines if the cyberstalker has a prior conviction for domestic violence or violates a restraining order, in which case cyberstalking becomes a felony.
If an ex-spouse is threatening or harassing you either in person or through internet platforms, you should file a report with the police and keep a digital record of their stalking activities to show in court. Then, contact your Los Angeles divorce lawyer to talk about your rights and legal options for protection.